Wednesday, May 28, 2014

United States vs. Azerbaijan Player Ratings

After a night to digest what we just witnessed, here is how I thought they rated:

Tim Howard - 6.5 - He didn't have a lot to do but he commanded his area well and the communcation between him and the backline was superb. When was the last time the U.S. didn't give away a single clear cut chance to the other team due to a miscommunication or mental lapse in defense? It's been a while, but last night the entire unit was cohesive and solid, and Howard's communication has a lot to do with that.

DaMarcus Beasley - 6 - Put in a very solid shift, but unspectacular also. I don't worry so much about him on the left as I used to. He's been much better positionally.

Matt Besler - 6 -  Positionally good but had some uncharacteristically poor giveaways. He'll bounce back, like he did in the second half, and move forward.

Geoff Cameron - 6.5 - Seems like CB is his position for the US, expecially with Johnson slotting in at RB. Played well in defense, even stepping further forward for the sake of possession or ball-winning when needed. Very positive 45 min shift.

Fabian Johnson - 6.5 - Covered a lot of ground and never looked like he was in trouble. He had some great control in some tight spaces, but his passing wasn't quite what it usually is (a symptom of the poor conditions probably, the whole team seemed to be just a bit off on their passing)

Alejandro Bedoya - 5.5 - This was his chance, putting in a full 90, to really display what he can offer, but he didn't really do all that much. Had a wonderful run in behind the defense that Bradley didn't spot in the first half on the break. This mark might be a little harsh but this certainly seems like an opportunity missed.

Jermaine Jones - 6 - I was very excited to see how he performed in the #6 role, seeing if he would stay home and play smart. He definitely stayed home, but his passing was, as usual, a bit of a mixed bag. He doesn't have the touch to play the long Pirlo-esque ball from deep, but that doesn't stop him from trying. Gives away possession quite often because he spots the killer ball but can't quite execute it. He covers a lot of ground, gives us bite in midfield, but his decision making always leaves me wanting more.

Michael Bradley - 6 - Subpar performance from Bradley tonight. I tweeted during the second half that he definitely wasn't his metronomic self tonight. Still had some good driving runs from midfield, and his technique on volleys and half-volleys is absolutely world class, as shown by his shot that was blocked for Diskerud's goal, but this wasn't vintage Michael Bradley. I wouldn't be surprised if his passing stats were the worst they've been for a year or two for the USMNT last night.

Graham Zusi - 6.5 - Good set piece delivery, could have had two assists on crosses to Wondo, but again was mostly anonymous and didn't leave his stamp on the game

Chris Wondolowski - 5 - Should have had two goals. The first one he needs to put to the corner instead of straight at the keeper, that's on him. The second one was a great save. His link up play was poor. If he is here as a poacher, when he has the opportunities, he has to poach.

Jozy Altidore - 6.5 - Positives are that he was strong and won quite a few balls you would want to have your target man winning, and he plays well facing goal with the ball at his feet. Negatives are that his first touch is really hit or miss, and for a man of his size he goes to ground way way too easy. Worked hard, had a positive outing, but you want to see him be more dangerous. Extra half point for ankle-breaking dribble near the touchline in the second half. That made me smile.


Omar Gonzalez - 6 -  Again, this is only Azerbaijan, but the biggest knock on Gonzo has been his mental lapses. He didn't have any. Also, his hair looks better short, and way better than if he had gotten a mullet. Thank you internet for making the right choice.

Timothy Chandler - 6 - Got forward well, linked up well with teammates, but his final ball is off...that's what happens when you are playing on the opposite side of your strong foot.

Brad Davis - 7 - I was really frustrated at him when he got played through on goal but then ended up trying to maneuver the ball onto his left foot and lost it instead. Then he put in two fantastic set piece deliveries and kept turning up in dangerous spots in between the lines. Really used space well and was a menace for the opposition. He impressed me.

Aron Johannsson - 6.5 - A half hour and a goal to show for it. It was an unmarked header in the box, but you still have to put those away, and he did where Chris Wondolowski didn't.

DeAndre Yedlin - 6 - Showed some great speed and didn't seem overwhelmed in the moment. Got forward to good effect, causing the defense to put the ball behind for the corner that led to Johannsson's goal. His passing was somewhat erratic though and he played a little out of control.

Mix Diskerud - 6.5 - Well-taken goal and he allowed Bradley to get his shot by holding his ground and fighting for that header while surrounded by defenders. Good showing for the new #10 who is just "borrowing" his jersey.

Bonus Rating - 0/3 - Number of PKs that could have (probably should have) been called that weren't. Hand ball on Altidore's pass in the first half, the foul on Brad Davis that was called a foul and then inexplicably placed outside the box, and then the late no call on what looked like a foul on Johannsson. One thing is for absolute certain, I'm looking forward to not having to deal with CONCACAF refs in the World Cup (although if we get someone like Koman Coulibaly again it won't be any better)

Did I get it right? Wrong? Let me know what you thought.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

USMNT vs Azerbaijan: Our first World Cup tune-up

Tonight, at 10 PM ET the US will play Azerbaijan in the first game of our send-off series before the World Cup. Azerbaijan has played both Germany and Portugal in recent times, and is coached by Berti Vogts, who may be familiar to you as the recently appointed as the USMNT special advisor, who kind of replaced Martin Vasquez as Klinsmann's de facto #2. Conflict of interest? I think so. Nevertheless, Azerbaijan should be a great tune-up match. They are currently ranked 85th in the FIFA rankings and placed 4 out of 6 in their World Cup qualifying group, behind Russia, Portugal, and Israel, and in front of Northern Ireland and Luxembourg.

The most interesting thing by far tonight will be what we learn from how the US lines up. Will we see the 4-2-3-1 that Klinsmann has used for most of his tenure or will he be tempted to trot out the diamond 4-4-2 that worked so well in the first half against Mexico in our last friendly. Will we see both at different times during the game? Who is going to be the starting back four? Will Geoff Cameron play as a CB or a RB? Can he get the start over the recently out-of-form/oft-maligned Omar Gonzalez? Is RB Timmy Chandler's position to lose even if he hasn't been with the team for over a year? What about Fabian Johnson, we all know he is listed as a defender, but will he line up at LB or fill the gaping hole in left midfield with DMB behind him?

Speaking of that gaping hole, that's what I'm most interested in seeing tonight. What happens at that left midfield position? I can count no fewer than 4 people who I wouldn't be surprised to see on the wing, and each of them would bring something completely different to the role. There is Johnson, who is probably the best left midfielder on the squad, and has played very well there for the USA in the past, whose technique is wonderful, provides good service, and would be a good option for possession play. The only drawback is that we don't have two Fabian Johnsons, so if he is in midfield then he can't play in defense, where he plays for his club. Alejandro Bedoya is the next natural pick, bringing industry to the side, but his service, especially from the left side, is suspect and I would expect him to tend to float inside. Brad Davis could start there, bringing good possession and service, but less industry and speed. All three of those options would make sense in the 4-2-3-1 or in the 4-4-2. If Klinsmann does go 4-2-3-1, I really wouldn't be shocked if Julian Green got the start out wide. Reports from camp are that he's playing really well and the double pivot would provide cover for him to take chances and run at defenders. Finally, one card that Klinsmann may have up his sleeve is to put Aron Johannsson on the left. Remember, Eddie Johnson played there multiple times in the 4-2-3-1 and Johannsson has played that role before with Altidore as the target man last season at AZ. Just some food for thought.

Here is what I think we'll see for a starting XI tonight. If we start in the 4-2-3-1 like I predict, the team might move to a diamond 4-4-2 in the second half with the introduction of Beckerman for either Jones or Bradley.

Courtesy of

I'm looking forward to seeing how the team comes together, and what tactical ideas we apply against a side that, theoretically, we should be able to handle quite easily. It would also be a great time for Jozy to break his Sunderland funk and start regaining confidence ahead of the World Cup. It will also be good to hopefully see some of the younger guys (Brooks, Green, Yedlin) get a run out in the second half. What are your thoughts and what do you hope to see?